Terminal and Loving Every Minute

My guest today is Andrew Budek-Schmeisser. Andrew is a reader of this blog and his comments have left me deeply moved so often that I asked him to write a post for us. Andrew is terminally ill, and it has changed the way he views the world in remarkable and beautiful ways. I want to take notes on living from the dying.

Yes, I’m terminally ill. My wife went to the doctor last week, and the receptionist asked, tentatively, “Your husband…is he still alive?”

That was a weird feeling, when she told me.

The doctor himself thinks I’m pretty far past my sell-by date…and he’s always surprised, too, that I’m still here. He’s thinking of writing a paper for a medical journal.

Really weird feeling, yeah?

But it reflects the truth. I’m losing ground steadily, and now spend large parts of each day lying on the floor in a fetal position, waiting for the pain to, well, not pass, but moderate to the point that I can get up again and do something. If nausea, incontinence, and fatigue allow for it. And if I remember what I wanted to do in the first place.

Something like writing this. It will take me quite awhile. I run out of physical and mental resources pretty quickly now.

And I still love my life. I would not trade this life for anything, including having my old health and vigour back.

It’s not because I’ve overdosed on Scripture like James 1:2 (“Count it all joy, your afflictions and trials…”) or Romans 5:3 (“…rejoice in your sufferings, because suffering produces endurance…”)

Make no mistake, James and Paul are right, but it wasn’t something I could take on faith. I had to learn these lessons myself, through facing the abyss, day after day. Looking for blessings in my life became vital for survival, a necessary antidote to the despair that could so easily overwhelm me.

Yes, illness brought blessings, and the fact that it seems like there’s no way out makes them even more precious.

It took time to recognize them, those blessings that came in frightening garb. I was a high achiever, and always had multiple projects going on, projects which I thought defined me, and validated my worth.

But now…those aspirations won’t come to pass, and it’s OK.

The goals are not what made the dreams worthwhile. They never were, and I’m so glad I saw that ere the end. It was all about the process, and the marks that the process made on my soul.

Each moment is a gift from God, and like the manna that fed the Israelites in the desert, each is perishable. Moments can’t be hoarded for later use, and they’re not intended for replanting in the hope that they will raise some of some future harvest.

We can come to each instant in our life fresh, with the heart and eyes of a child, taking hold of this precious uniqueness of now in wonder and delight…or we can choose to be jaded, and to pile the moment in with the past wreckage that attends present circumstances.

I choose wonder. I choose delight. And I choose to hold these tiny time-intervals dear, and as a direct line to the God that loves me in spite of my mistakes, and through my current ordeal.

It is an ordeal. The pain is real; I could see it as a prison; I haven’t been off the property in eight months. Riding in a car hurts too much, and there’s nowhere I can sojourn in comfort. I can’t do the things I would have liked to do, and much of the time is spent trying to build strength and resolve to do the things I have to do.

It isn’t a penitentiary, though. It’s more of a hermitage, a place in which the fires of adversity can temper my soul to become an instrument of God’s love, and the hammering of pain forges my heart to become that love.

Each moment from the Almighty that I choose to treasure, and which I choose to do my best for His sake, it adds to the storehouse of love that I can show.

Each stab of pain builds compassion for those who are worse off; there are so many suffering with no place to call home, no one to love them. I have a wonderful wife, a group of devoted dogs (some of whom know how to save my life, doing a canine version of CPR…they’ve done it several times), and friends I’ll never meet in person but whose hearts have reached out to me through the Internet. How can I complain about a small thing like dying?

Each realization that yeah, this could be the last day, it makes the sunlight brighter and the air sweeter, and the touch of a cool breeze on a summer day a gentle benison from Heaven.

With all this, how can I keep from singing? And more importantly, how can I keep from loving?

Achievement is nice, but it’s not for this that God made us.

Success is grand, but it isn’t God’s ultimate plan for our lives.

A bright future is wonderful, but it’s not something God ever guaranteed.

What we have is now, and we have a simple mission statement – to love God with all our hearts, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

We learn to love God through the practice of loving others, and we can only truly love others when we let go of ourselves. Jesus was and is the servant and sacrifice to those He loved and loves. He laid the stones along the path we are to take.

And in dying, I have learned to let go. I have let go my earthly hopes and aspirations, giving them over to God. I’m sure He’ll treat them with care; He saves each tear we shed, and can we expect He will do less with the dreams He gave us, that we couldn’t fulfill in this life? They’ll be waiting.

I’ve learned to let go of my concern for myself. Yes, it hurts, but it’s OK that it hurts; I was never in control of this, though I tried to pretend through defiance and will that I was, but God is in control of it all.

I’ve learned to let go of possessiveness in relationship. I don’t want my wife, who is quite young, to make the rest of her life a monument to our time together. I want her heart to go on from the point where I leave this life, hurt for sure but healing, and hoping. I don’t want to see her lonely.

And may be most important, I’ve learned to let go of my preconceptions about God. I wanted to believe that I was favoured in that things went ‘right’ for me; the breaks fell my way.

And then it was me that broke.

I saw that favour was not the good job or the research contact or the book deal. Favour was being led by the hand by the Almighty, into a place where I could accept, without resentment, the hand that is dealt me, and embrace, without anger, the further pain that will surely be mine before this life is done.

By not looking back in resentment or forward in sullen dread…only along this road can I fully love in the now.

And as I love, so am I Loved, and so, further…I’m terminal and loving every minute.

 

Andrew Budek-Schmeisser is the author of two novels, “Blessed Are the
Pure Of Heart” and “Emerald Isle“, and three short e-books. Formerly a
security contractor and teacher, he lives on a remote mesa in New
Mexico with his wife and a number of rescued dogs and cats.

I am very grateful to Andrew for his willingness to share such hard-won wisdom and perspective with us. Live in peace, brother: in this life and the life to come. Readers, if you’d like to respond to Andrew – leave him a comment below or reach out to him via his blog. He is house-bound but our words can reach his living room, and our prayers can reach on high.

Finding God in the (Mommy) Whirlwind

How I wish Catherine McNiel’s book Long Days of Small Things – Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline had been around when I was first a mom. Her conviction that God know and sees and loves and longs to connect with Mothers not just despite motherhood but in the midst of motherhood is deeply true and life-giving. I am so grateful for her guest post here today.

I remember that crazy cocktail of emotions that swirled through my nine-week birthing class. Fourteen pairs of wide-eyed, frightened, soon-to-be parents met in a hot, crowded room. We watched terrifying birth videos, considered impossible contortions of the pelvis, and clenched ice cubes in our fists (a stand-in for pain while we practiced relaxing).

All twenty-eight of us were standing on the precipice of the biggest jump of our lives. We knew we had to go over, but not who would go first—or what would come after.

A few months later I ran into a family from birthing-class in a shopping center parking lot. Swinging car seat carriers back and forth we eagerly introduced our infants to each other and caught up on how the real birth and early days had gone.

We exchanged tales of colic and weight-gain issues. We confessed to being exhausted, a bit unhinged, and absolutely unable to find time for the basics of life that we’d taken for granted before—showering, laundry, sleeping, making a sandwich. Where was it all going? we asked ourselves. How could someone so small take over everything?!

Then one of them looked at me and chuckled. “I remember you saying you couldn’t wait for the quiet rhythm of life at home with a baby. You thought you’d have more quiet times working from home than you did working full time in the office.”

I did?

Only a few weeks in to parenthood, I couldn’t recall anything of that pre-precipice world where I might think something so preposterous.

There is a sacredness to that spot on the edge of the precipice, isn’t there? We are all-in, moving forward, no stopping us now. Yet, we have no idea what is coming. We can’t possibly. The future is unknowable; the change is massive. We’ve seen a hundred other families walk down this rite of passage and survive, yet there is no way out for us but through. We can only learn as we go. Our bodies and souls are wide open in surrender—we have no choice but to accept what may come.

And what comes is a whirlwind.

A new person, with unrelenting physical needs that can only be met by our physical bodies. Ourselves torn, inside and out, with stiches and sutures and post-partum depression. Waking every 90 minutes for days, then weeks—maybe even months. The worry of plugged ducts, infections, APGAR scores, developmental milestones. The pressures from family, from strangers, from ourselves. The joys of first smiles, soft heads, clenching fists.

Our children.

We were taught, with Elijah, that God’s voice is not in the whirlwinds, not in the earthquake, not in the fire. For Elijah, who had staved off rain then brought it back, who called down fire and bested his enemies—he found himself in early retirement, with no false-prophets to confront or battles to win. His challenge was learning to hear God in the gentle wind, the still, small voice.

But me? I’ve always known how to find God in the silence, in the quiet times. The hours of journaling, singing, serving. What are we supposed to do now, in the sleepless days of constant bouncing and breastfeeding, of unwashed hair and piles of laundry? In the days when we can hardly keep it all together and our families moving forward?

Sister, I am here to tell you, God is in the whirlwind too.

During these precious days of miracles, we celebrate the gifts but grieve what we have lost. The certainty of who we are, the satisfactions of contributing to a team, the autonomy to choose where we will go and how we will spend our time. The mental clarity to study the Bible, the ability to be awake long enough to close our eyes and pray.
There is so much guilt that piles up on us, in this season, this whirlwind where everything “normal” is set aside. Shouldn’t we be better, do more, have it all together?

But God is in this whirlwind.

He made our bodies to create, to give birth, to lactate…and to heal again, eventually. He made our babies to need a loving grown-up day and night, to learn their identity through the unrelenting rhythm of constant cry and response, tiny tummies and diapers emptied and filled, and then again.

Our Creator is in this process, in this love, in this nurture. He is with us in the sleepless night-time vigils and the daytime pouring-out.

The day will come again, Mama, when you will wash your hair, put on clothes, and go out into the world independently. The season will arrive when you can pull out your journal and listen for that still, small voice in the gentle wind.

But in the meantime, sister, God is in the whirlwind.

Catherine McNiel writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day—while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Catherine is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017), and loves to connect on Twitter , Facebook , or at catherinemcniel.com .
 

Your Marriage Might Need Extra Sauce (and other things you didn’t expect)

I’m delighted to share an excerpt from Dorothy Greco’s EXCELLENT new book Making Marriage Beautiful today. I’m so tired of the “30 days/5 ways to being a happier/sexier/better spouse” type of stuff out there. I long for real wisdom that has stood the test of time, and which holds out hope even for hapless folk like me. This is a practical, funny, biblical and HELPFUL book. It doesn’t have a single cheesy “just plan a date night!” suggestion. Instead, it has stories about looking at ourselves and our loved ones with kinder, better eyes, and making small, doable beautiful changes day by day which add up to a lifetime of joy. See for yourself.

The first time I went to my husband’s house for Thanksgiving, was the first time I was confronted with my ethnocentric tendencies. There was twice as much food as needed, including lime Jell-O and canned green beans submerged in a thick, gray sauce. The turkey was ceremoniously placed front and center, and then his mother brought out two huge trays of lasagna. Lasagna. With extra sauce (this is important) and meatballs. For Thanksgiving.

After a prayer, the curtain went up and the opera began. Unlike at my home, there was no turn taking or insightful follow-up questions. One person simply started talking—to no one in particular—and then another layered their thoughts on top but not before turning up the volume. Then a third and fourth jumped in, making it impossible to really listen to anyone—something I eventually learned was not a priority. I’ve never been a fan of opera and even less so when I’m thrust into it without an opportunity to rehearse my lines. This experience helped me better understand Christopher, but I was not able to extrapolate his genetically coded mealtime expectations until we had a substantial fight not long after.

At our inaugural dinner party, we invited three couples over. The conversation was lively and the food excellent. Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening—except Christopher, who made several less-than-affirming comments about my culinary efforts. This same scenario played out multiple times before I pointedly inquired, “Why are you so critical of how I prepare meals for guests?” He shot back, “Because you don’t cook enough food and you never put out extra sauce when you make pasta!” Want to guess how our evening played out? That fight opened our eyes to a shocking reality: our family cultures had so deeply shaped our preferences, biases, and beliefs that we each reflexively judged anything different as wrong. This discovery allowed us to start tracing other marital challenges directly back to our formative years.

Like us, many of you may have ended up with overweight luggage as you packed for your honeymoon because you unknowingly crammed the suitcase full of culturally bound expectations and historic wounds. If we lack awareness regarding our ethnocentrism and our scars, we tend to assume we’re always right, become oppositional, and endlessly criticize and judge one another.

Because Christopher and I are white, we have not been victims of racism.  However, many of you not only have been but continue to be affected by this systemic sin. The highly publicized race-related issues of recent times have shattered any illusion that racism is a thing of the past. If you are a minority, you have most likely been traumatized by racial disparity, intentional segregation, and overt discrimination. It’s nearly impossible to grow up with an intact sense of self if you have been repeatedly told that you are less than and flawed. These deep wounds guide not only how we understand ourselves but also how we interact with others.

Evan, a Chinese American friend, grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood during the seventies. He doesn’t look back on his neighbors as racists but rather “ignorant ethnocentrists.” In his words:

My personality was reduced to my ethnic identity. There was a sense that everything that represented my family of origin was not accepted in the culture. I had to put on different masks and code-switch [modifying the way you express yourself depending on who you’re with]. I remember as young as first grade, maybe earlier, looking in the mirror and wishing that my facial features were different because I didn’t look like everyone else. In Chinese culture, it’s considered beautiful to have a wide, flat nose, but in American culture, it’s beautiful if you have a long, thin nose. I would sit in front of the mirror and squeeze my nose, hoping that it would become long and narrow. Think about how powerful the messages must have been for me as a seven-year-old child to feel that I had to change my face to be accepted.

Regardless of how we got our scars and how they manifest, they don’t magically disappear when we get married. We bring all of who we are into our marital covenants: our gifts, talents, and strengths but also our weaknesses, limitations, and brokenness. Our spouse is typically the first people who has gotten close enough to notice these scars.

    Our scars and internalized cultural values not only inform our beliefs and actions, but they also become the foundation for many of our expectations. As we enter into marriage, we have dozens of unspoken expectations for the small, seemingly incidental details of life together (e.g., who cleans the bathroom?) as well as the major, significant components of life (e.g., who sacrifices their career to care for a sick child or aging parent?). Sometimes we’re not even cognizant of our expectations until others fail to meet them. Sometimes an expectation emanates out of our wounds, which makes it more difficult for us to identify the expectation, let alone discern what drives it.

For example, not long after we were married, Christopher and I started having conflicts about what it meant to be home in time for dinner. After we negotiated what seemed like a reasonable compromise and then he showed up an hour (or more) late, I felt angry. He would apologize, but then we’d have a déjà vu moment the following week. Though I had legitimate reasons to be frustrated, his offense was a level three (out of ten—not that big a deal) and my response was a level eight (in other words, out of proportion). This disparity clued me in to the possibility that maybe this dynamic was uncovering a historic wound.

When we have the same conflicts over and over again, it’s likely that there’s something deeper going on that will provide an opportunity for healing if we can stop reacting and start exploring what’s driving our broken patterns. That was certainly true regarding our ongoing discord about mealtime. When I was twelve, my grandfather died and our extended family fractured due to some poor choices and miscommunication. After two of my father’s beloved siblings moved out of state, he turned to liquor to numb his pain. This eventually led to a full-blown alcohol addiction lasting more than a decade.

During my middle and high school years, dinner could be a tense affair. Would Dad be on time? Would he be sober? If he wasn’t, how would Mom respond? There was an obvious connection between my childhood wounds and our marital strife. Christopher’s struggle with time management uncovered my unresolved pain and amplified my unprocessed anger. My response replicated my family of origin’s patterns and certainly did not help Christopher feel loved or grow in his time management skills.

Obviously, not all expectations emerge from brokenness and pain. Many are inspired by God. When we vow to love, honor, and cherish until death do us part, we expect our spouse to stick with us, even if we become unemployed, cannot conceive, or develop serious health issues. We expect our spouse to tell the truth, advocate for us, and remain monogamous. These are healthy non-negotiables. In order to have a healthy marriage that is free from judgment, we need to discern which expectations are godly and life-giving and which ones adversely affect our marriages.

    As my husband and I have pursued healing for our historic wounds and let go of our need to be right, we’ve become less dogmatic and more flexible. These changes manifest in small but welcome ways. When I need to talk through something, Christopher no longer expects me to replicate his family’s operatic style of communication. When we have company, I try to serve more food than I know we need. And sometimes, I even remember to put extra sauce on the table.

 

This article was adapted from Making Marriage Beautiful (2017) published by David C Cook. Used with permission.
Dorothy Littell Greco writes on how following Jesus changes everything. Her work appears in Relevant, Christianity Today, The Mudroom, and Start Marriage Right, among others. Her first book, Making Marriage Beautiful was published by David C Cook in January. You can find more of her work on her website or by following her on Twitter (@dorothygreco) or Facebook (Words & Images by DorothyGreco)

The Betta Mom (an unexpected story)

I’m delighted to have a guest post over at Melanie Dale’s fabulous blog, Unexpected, today (Remember Melanie? She wrote that awesome post about being a Cheerleader Mom). My post is about our pet fish, and it’s kind of a finny story, really…. Click right over to Mel’s place now to read the whole thing or get a sneak peak below…

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My kids have wanted pets for the longest time. It is entirely possible that the first thought that went through my newborn son’s head after “Whoa, it’s bright out here!” was “When can I get a puppy?”

Despite having had beloved pets growing up, both my husband and I have been the King and Queen of Reluctance about getting a pet. There were so many reasons not to: first, because we had no yard. Then, because we were renting. Then, because we traveled for weeks at a time. But as more kids and a piece of turf to call our own became realities, we finally took shelter behind one immovable excuse: too much poop. Mama has a poop-limit, and with three kids under the age of 5, she was maxed out. There was no margin for any extra clean-up, and thus no margin for furry friends, no matter how cute.

But then, friends, the day came when the skies parted and the Angelic Chorus sang Hallelujah. Our youngest child sat on his porcelain throne, finally depositing bodily fluids where they were supposed to go, and right in the middle of my victory dance, my older kids piped up: “Does this mean we can get a pet now?”

Seriously, can a woman not get a two-minute break?

(Continue reading here!)

Image credit: Bryce Gandy (Flickr Creative Commons)

Did you get to be a child in your childhood? (Gina Butz)

Today’s post is from Gina Butz: a writer, mom, campus minister, world traveler, and fellow Redbud.

Mom2moM

13 years ago, I was exhausted. The mother of two preschoolers living overseas with a husband who was in increasing demand, I was coming to the end of my resources. We had just moved to Singapore, which meant I lost the local maid who had kept me afloat in our previous location. At the same time, both our kids decided that naps would no longer be part of their daily schedule. It was like I’d lost six hours of every day. Did I mention exhausted?

Six months in to our time there, my husband and I participated in an intensive coaching program. Part of our preparation for the time was to write out a life map, detailing the highs and lows, influences, and significant moments of our lives.

While meeting with some of our coaches during the program, one of them told me that when I shared my life map with our next coach, I had to ask him this question,

“Did God give me a place to be a child in my family?”

I thought it was a strange question, but I was willing to comply. I was sure the answer was yes, anyway. How could it be otherwise?

So after sharing my story, I threw out my question, “So, did God give me a place for me to be a child in my family?”

He looked at me with tears in his eyes, and gently said, “No.”

I was furious. Not at him. Not at my parents. Straight to the source – I was irate with God. He was the one who didn’t give me a story where I was a child. He didn’t give me that place that I needed. What kind of God would do that?
I marched back to my hotel room and raged against Him. When I finally stopped enough to hear Him respond to my, “Why?” his reply was, “Because I wanted you to be Mine.”

What followed was months upon months of searching out what this meant. What does it look like to live as His child? And how had I not been doing it?

I grew up as the 2nd of three children. My older sister is mentally challenged, which functionally made me the oldest. I took my role seriously. I became the kid you didn’t have to worry about, the one who took care of herself. After all, it was easier for everyone that way. In many ways, I wasn’t a child in my family because I chose not to be, but it was God who orchestrated the background in which that was the most natural response. How could I have known how that would change the way I related to God, to myself, to others?

I was exhausted 13 years ago in part because I had been an adult for so very long, trying to be put together, to be the person no one had to carry, the one who was strong for everyone else. I lived in fear that failure would surely make me unlovable, and in contempt for the child in myself who desperately needed to fall apart and be held.

My search began with reading: Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning, and The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen for starters. Over time, I read so many books in my quest to ground myself in identity as His beloved child that I started a journal where I collected quotes from all of them. On the days when I found myself feeling insecure, unknown, tempted to look elsewhere for the security I needed, I would spend hours poring over that journal, repeating to myself, “This is who you are. This is who you are. This is who you are.”

Over time, something shifted internally. It felt like I was discovering a solid place in the core of my being. As Henri Nouwen puts it,

“There is a place in me where God has chosen to dwell. It is the place where I am held safe in the embrace of an all-loving Father who calls me by name, and says, ‘You are my Beloved child, on whom my favor rests.’”

I would love to say I fully embrace this position as His child, but I still struggle. It is so easy to wander from that truth. Like an orphan, I can doubt my place in His family, and run back to my own resources, wary of trusting others. But He keeps calling me back to this solid place inside of who He is and who He says I am.

I am so grateful for that question 13 years ago. It awakened me and invited me to a deeper, more true identity than the one I’d been living.

Gina ButzGina Butz has served in full time ministry for over 20 years, 13 of them spent overseas. She and her husband are raising two third culture kids and an imported dog in Orlando, Florida, where they serve in Global Leadership for Cru. Gina considers it a good day if she can create something with her words or her hands. She blogs at www.ginabutz.com about being wholehearted, and loves to connect with others on twitter @gina_butz

Running Like an Inflated Drunkard

It is no secret that it is Tim Fall’s fault encouragement that got me blogging. I always enjoy Tim’s words, and am delighted to welcome him here today with his usual blend of funny, warm and robustly encouraging insight.

Running Like an Inflated Drunkard

Contrary to the impression I might have given with posts on running a 6 mile obstacle course and a half-marathon in the Happiest Place on Earth, I am not wont to join a few thousand strangers in order to traverse long distances in company.

But I did it again.

This time it was a 5K through a bunch of bounce houses. Three miles and a dozen inflatable obstacles made for a fun-run in the truest sense. It also made me feel like the folks in this verse:

They reeled and staggered like drunkards … . (Psalm 107:27.)

Tim Drunkard

Me reeling and staggering, but not falling down.

 

We signed up along with a bunch of people from the gym. As the day approached the young guy who owns the gym – and whom we looked to as our fearless leader for the race – went and blew his knee out and ended up having surgery.

That didn’t stop him from taking the course. He said he’d do it, and he did. And we did it with him. He couldn’t run so we all walked with him 3.1 miles from obstacle to obstacle. He hobbled through the obstacles along with the rest of us, laughing and joking around. It wasn’t the way the course was designed to be taken, perhaps, but it was the right way for us to go.

The Right Way to Go

Which reminds me of another verse:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
(Proverbs 18:24.)

This group of friends stuck together for the sake of the one who could not run full speed. It’s the same with the church, the people of God. We are called to come together, to be with one another, to love each other in the good times and the bad times. In fact, it’s this love for one another that shows people who we belong to.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35.)

How can you love one another so that people will see you belong to Jesus? Good question, and one I hope you’ll help answer in a comment. For me it often means encouraging people. I don’t restrict this to fellow Christians, of course. Jesus’ love is something I can share with everyone God puts in my life.

When we love those outside the body of Christ, we do it without expectation of reciprocation. When we do it with each other, though, it should be a mutual care and love for one another. It is this bond of love – the back and forth, the give and take whether everyone can run at the same speed or not – that shows people who we are.

That’s what Jesus said.


Tim Fall pointsTim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 28 years with two grown kids, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. He blogs, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook too.

 

 

Things My Mother Told Me (Shannon Wilson)

Reader Shannon Wilson sent me this amazing story about her Mom. Please welcome Shannon to the blog and savor this beautiful story.

For the past 15 years, my mother has talked to me about the day that she would die. My mom holds loosely to this life, primarily because she holds tightly to the promise of her Savior,  knowing life is a vapor and she has the treasure of eternity with Christ just up ahead. She started countless sentences with this phrase:  “Shannon, when I’m gone… ”  The first several times, I was horrified. Who wants to think about their vibrant and healthy mom dying? But she did it anyway, throwing the idea around with the ease of a pizza order.

Over time I got used to this odd “coaching” that only my mother seemed to do.  She would receive an eyeroll from me in response to her casual banter about the day I wouldn’t have her beside me. I told her time and time again that just because she prepped me about this wouldn’t make the day easier for me when it actually arrived.

Alongside this “prep,” there are truths of God that she has hammered into me over the years.  She said this to me, “It is the time in between the valleys, when you are on the mountaintop, that you press hard into Christ.  When you are not in the valley, when you are on a peak, don’t forget to know him well in these days, because a valley will come.”    This was not a gloomy, pessimistic view; my mother is the opposite of those things.  She is a dispenser of wisdom and I had grown up enough (finally) to heed her words. After a season in the valley, I came to a mountaintop.  I pressed in to Christ and remembered her words, “Press in on the mountain, a valley will come.”

  On January 14, 2014, my mother didn’t show up for an appointment. The police even used the phrase “missing.”   Finally, we got the call that brought her location into the open.   She had a severe stroke that induced a brain seizure. Her brain was bleeding and seizing while she was driving on major highway.  She got up to 90 miles per hour and slammed into a guard rail.  She had just been taken to the trauma center. Come quickly.   In an instant we went from one crisis – My mother is missing – to the next.

Suddenly, I didn’t know if my mother would be alive when I got to her.   I did not know if she was alive right then, at that moment while my dad and I were in the car, speeding toward her.  In those minutes, the words that my mother had spent years building into me seamlessly and suddenly wove together with the Spirit of God within me.

I wanted my mother to be alive.  I prayed desperately for her to be alive, for God to save her. Desperately I prayed,  boldly I begged…I was not ready for this to be the day.

Shannon holding her Mom’s hand in hospital (Photo used with permission)

 

At the same time, running a parallel track, I knew that it was entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that my mom was already in the presence of Jesus and seeing him face to face, or that she would be at any moment.

In those minutes, one truth from the mountaintop blazed forth and settled over the two tracks in my mind. He had told Martha this truth two thousand years before,  I AM the One thing, He said, I AM the Better thing.  I knew it to be true.   For my mom and for me.  Jesus, the One thing, spoke again through the words implanted in my heart through His Word:  “Do you believe?”  In that instant I knew that I believed that He is Enough, that if he took her or had already taken her that we would sing His praises at her funeral.
January 14, 2014 was not my mother’s day to die.   Today, she is a walking, talking miracle. About 6 weeks after the accident she made this statement to me, her speech halting and slower than before, but clear as a bell: “Shannon, I have prayed for you to have more of God and less of me…so when the day comes, HE would be enough.”
There it was.  The thread that she had been weaving for 15 years.   Her purpose behind all those years of casual prep, the encouragement to press in on the mountaintop, had never been to make the day “easier”  for me or to assume that the day would come less painfully.  Her purpose was to fill me with more of Jesus.  So when the day comes, and it was not that day but it will be another, that I would know that He is enough.

Shannon Wilson lives in NC with her husband and son.  Her passion is to write and speak about the riches of God’s Word and encourage women to live out the Gospel in their daily lives.  She loves reading, talking, wildly accessorizing and spending time with her family.  Connect with her on her blog, twitter and instagram (@shannonhw), or find her on Facebook.

 

On conquering the world

My friend Cara Meredith invites people to write guest posts on her blog, and she always has the best prompts. Last year she had us write about unexpected moments, and I got to tell a bit of my love story. This year the prompt is rituals, and I loved getting to write about one of the sweetest things that has developed in our home: the unexpected ritual of world-conquering. Here’s a snippet (and here’s the whole link..)

clotho98

It’s 8:11am, and there’s fussing by the front door:

“Where are your shoes?”

“I can’t find my library book.”

“Why didn’t you unpack your lunch bag yesterday?”

“Hurry up! I don’t want to get another tardy note!”

In the flurry, zips are zipped, snacks are packed, and finally, my husband and older kids tumble out the door. I stand with my youngest—both still in our pajamas and slippers—and call out to them: “Bye! Love you! Conquer the world!” My three year old echoes in a voice that echoes down the street: “Conquer! The! World!!!” and his Daddy rolls down the window as he backs out the driveway and shouts back, “bye! Conquer your little world, too!”

Tail lights disappear down the street, and we click the front door closed.

This is how it happens every day.

(Read the rest here)

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Clotho98

10 Tips For Making The Most of Twitter

When I have a question about Twitter, I ask Aleah Marsden. As it turns out, I’m not alone with my questions about the why, how, and what-the-heck of Twitter, so I asked Aleah to please write us newbies a post. Enjoy, and tweet it to a friend!

Top 10 Twitter Tips

I get comments from people occasionally wondering why Twitter is my hands-down absolute favorite social media platform.

I tell them it’s because there are people there.

Real people with real lives who, if they are using it well, are also looking to interact. I don’t think any other social media platform offers that as simply and effectively as Twitter. Facebook comes with a lot baggage; some people would be better off limited to 140 magical characters. Instagram is visually stunning, though I find its lack of links and difficulty sharing stunt its ability for deeper connection. Pinterest—my least favorite platform—is just flat-out void of people. It feels like I’m walking into a museum alone and I’m looking for someone to discuss the art with and all I can find is more art.

Now, to be sure, being a writer and lover of words, I am biased. Still, wasn’t the original point of social media to connect with, well, people? My biggest writing opportunities have ALL been somehow related to Twitter. I have made friends and connections with people that, frankly, I shouldn’t even know.

As a means of publicly declaring my Twitter devotion (and having a convenient link to send to the person who weekly contacts me about my “Twitter strategy”), I’ve made a list of my Ten Twitter Tips for you to get the most out of this platform:

1. Don’t act like a celebrity. Stop and consider your motives. For many of us a reality of our Twitter use is to increase our social media presence for our platform. I do not have a problem with this, up to a point. However, a trap I fell in when I first began tweeting was being overly concerned with my follower ratio. I wanted to make sure I always had more followers than people I was following because I wanted to look popular. I was the queen of my tiny Twitter-kingdom, and you know what? It ended up stunting my overall growth. This is Twitter people, not prom.

2. Follow-back real people. My general rule: if they have less than five thousand followers and seem to be interested in interaction, or I perceive them as being in my target audience for my writing, then I follow back. There are always exceptions, but I’ve found this to be effective. This does take about half a minute of actual research; clicking on someone’s profile to see what they’re about. But if you’re here for connecting with people and not just looking like a celebrity, then it’s more than worth your time. Often, not always, I’ll use the first profile look to engage someone: I notice you have a lot of kids and like coffee: me too! Or, reading anything awesome right now? Following back is probably the number one way to show you value people above your platform. It says I see you and I care about what you have to say.

3. Invest in slow, sustainable growth. Yes, many of us are here to cultivate a platform. Personally, I do this by daily following a handful of people that I think would benefit from my message, instead of following a thousand people per week who are also just looking to gain followers. I do this by following people who follow people with similar interests. For example, I know that a lot of women who follow the Redbud Writers Guild account (@redbudwriters) are looking to connect with Christian women who are influencing culture. I fit that category, too. I know that women who follow Christianity Today’smeneutics blog (@CT_women) enjoy news and cultural analysis from a feminine evangelical perspective; I want to know what these women have to say. People who follow IF:Gathering (@IFgathering) or Propel (@PropelWomen) are looking to empower women in leadership; I’m interested in that, too. There’s nothing wrong with seeking to follow people, just be genuine in how you go about it. Your numbers will increase more slowly, but you’ll have built an affinity group that actually cares about your message.

4. Be genuine. You should be the same person offline that you are online, and that goes for any social media platform. This does not mean you need to tweet your deepest, most private thoughts. I think of Twitter as a virtual work cocktail party. Would you walk into the room and loudly begin reading your diary? Now, I think there is a place for transparency in any relationship, but I also think in our culture of praising the “brave” and “vulnerable” that we need to consider whether we are sharing to encourage others or to get attention. Figure out where you draw the line between being genuine and over-sharing.

5. Be quick to listen, slow to tweet. One of the coolest things about Twitter is that you can listen in on conversations people are having. I love watching people I admire interacting and engaging difficult topics. It’s not every day (or ever) that I can sit in on a conversation about current events with such a broad scope of voices represented. Twitter can be an excellent tool for better understanding where people are coming from on all sorts of issues. Here’s the thing: YOU DON’T HAVE TO INSERT YOUR OPINION. I mean, if you have something constructive worth mentioning, by all means jump in! Unfortunately, what I usually see happening is a lot of people who feel they need to declare what side they are on as if we’re choosing teams. Tweet-debate is not a team sport.

6. Don’t feed the trolls. There are always those people who struggle with number four. These people are not only looking to join a team, but they’re trying to become team captain. Your best strategy is to ignore them. If they’re particularly bothersome utilize the mute or, as a final resort, block feature. Be aware, though, that just because someone doesn’t agree with your opinion, this does not make them a troll. Twitter is a great place to gain a diverse understanding of issues, so follow people who don’t see the world as you do, but be humble enough to listen without provocation.

7. Love your Twitter neighbor as yourself. I have had numerous people ask me what the secret is to get people to interact with you. Well, if you want people to tweet you, why don’t you start by tweeting them? I set a goal of interacting with five people every time I log on. Do you want people to retweet your posts? Well, go ahead and do some reading and comment and retweet other people’s work. You want someone to tweet about your book? You get the picture.

8. Don’t be a link or retweet spammer. While I appreciate when people share their own or other people’s work, this should not make up the bulk of your tweets. I follow you because I genuinely want to know what you have to say. Please don’t add to my already congested feed by auto-tweeting a link to your most recent post hourly for a week. Certainly do not be one of those people who have a Twitter account for that sole purpose. If you want to promote your work without interaction a better platform choice would be Pinterest.

9. For the love of hashtags. A lot of people hate on hashtags or the newly coined hashtag-activism. Hashtagtivism. Like all of Twitter, I think this has potential for good or evil Personally, I’m a fan of the witty hashtag at the end of a tweet. #thestruggleisreal #hatersgonnahate #procrastinatorsgonnaprocrastinate Some people find them annoying, especially long ones, so use them sparingly. #itshouldnotakeyoufiveminutestodecipherasinglehastagthatisridiculousyouonlyhaveonehundredandfortycharacters. In theory, the purpose of hastags are to gather like content into one place. An especially practical way I’ve seen this used if for book launches. A unique hashtag of your title can help create buzz. (Be sure to check your hashtag before using, though. You wouldn’t want to be linking your work to something sketchy). Also, there is something to be said for hashtagtivism getting a powerful message out, ex: #blacklivesmatter. This is also another way to find people of similar (or respectfully dissimilar) opinions. There are even some excellent communities that gather around hashtags, check out: #amwriting #wholemama #fmfparty.

10. NEVER EVER AUTO-DIRECT MESSAGE This is one of my biggest pet peeves. You follow someone and whatever app they use to manage their account automatically sends a generic direct message. This is a surefire way for me to immediately unfollow or mute you. I don’t know what social media guru teaches people this is the way to go, but if you want people to engage with you, act like a person and personally tweet them. To me this is akin to being handed a gospel-tract from a stranger. Sure, it can sometimes be effective, but I’m much more likely to take an interest in your message or ministry if I have a relationship with you.

Oh, Twitter.

How do I love you? Let me count the ways.

I love you on your very best,

And very worst of days.

This is a somewhat adapted version of one of my sons’ favorite board books How Do I Love You? By P.K. Hallinan. The premise is that a parent steadfastly loves his or her unruly son, no matter what he does; be it coloring on the walls or playing contentedly.

And that pretty much sums up my Twitter experience, as well. For everything wonderful and exciting about this platform, it certainly has its petulant toddlerish side as well, but, oh how I love it!

Yes, for every genuine connection there is an exponential number of trolls and bots, but I believe if you have a heart for connecting with people, then it’s well worth the investment.

Aleah Marsden is a writer, editor, and Social Media and Communications Manager for Redbud Writers Guild. She blogs at DepthoftheRiches.com about life, faith, and Bible study. Connect with her on Twitter: @marsdenmom

 

You’re Bleeding, Not Dying {Liz von Ehrenkrook}

This week’s guest post is from Liz von Ehrenkrook: a kind and generous online friend. Recently, God called Liz and her youth pastor husband to pack up and go—Abraham-like—on a new journey. You can follow along here

bleeding

Sometimes I think we’re scared to bleed.

When I was a kid, I played hard; and hard at play meant bruised or scratched limbs, with the occasional should-we-go-to-the-doctor injuries. My parents weren’t the kind to opt for medical bills if they could handle my crying and heal my body at home with peroxide, over-the-counter ointments and band-aids.

In fact, I only remember going to the doctor one time.

I was four years old. Mom was in the kitchen cooking, I want to say macaroni and cheese because I always wanted to eat macaroni and cheese. I remember my brother and I watching He-man, and my decision to sit closer to the TV.

I hear my mom’s voice – but it’s not good for you to sit so close!

I wager, how could I get closer without it being bad for me, without getting into trouble?

My dad’s easy chair was angled toward our coffee table. I pulled the lever and reclined back so the footrest extended. I wiggled my tiny body onto the edge of the footrest, propping my head up onto the coffee table. There, a tad uncomfortable, but closer nonetheless.

I don’t remember how I fell.

My head was aching. Mom was running into the living room scooping me into her arms and flying down the hall to the bathroom. I remember sitting on the edge of the sink while she parted my hair, looking for the source of all the blood. She said I wasn’t crying but I was scared at her reaction, at the worried look permanently wrinkling her face. I turned my head ever so slightly and could see my reflection in the mirror.

There was so much blood. I let loose a howl, a high-pitched screech that sounded like a siren.

Then we were in the car, speeding to the hospital. I was in my mom’s lap, hugging her chest. My blood soaked her shirt.

Everything at the hospital is a blur. I remember crying. I remember bucking, flailing my arms and legs when the doctor cleaned my wound and then began stitching my head. Two nurses lay across my body but the adrenaline released a she-Hulk and I wasn’t going down easy.

I remember my mom’s face then. She was calm; there was no more worry.

“Elizabeth. You need to let the doctor do his job. You’re going to be okay. Can you be still for me?”

My body stopped convulsing immediately. I stared into my mother’s eyes and held her gaze. I remember my nose running and really wanting her to wipe it for me.

My skull has a weird shape now, a flat area. I used to enjoy freaking people out by letting them run their hand across my head. This is my scar.

I did suffer some trauma from the event. Because I had been exposed to so much of my own blood, my reaction to even the tiniest scratch with the smallest droplet of blood would send me into hysterics. I’d run fast and far, thinking I could get away from it.

My parents had to work with me through all my future injuries to settle me down, to remind me, “You’re bleeding. You’re not dying.”

I have grown into a woman of resilience. I adorn my body with beautiful scars to express who God has created me to be. Under the needle in tattoo shops I bleed, and it’s a reminder to me that I’m growing, I’m changing – but I’m not dying.

I imagine a lot of people would die for God because, heaven. But to live for God here, right now, means we have to live out our faith on earth, in this plane of reality, where we face trials of all kinds. In order to live, we have to be willing to bleed, and it’s difficult to make that kind of commitment to pain.

We don’t like the thought of blood; our life flowing from our veins, worrying how much we have to give. Then we sing songs telling the spirit to lead us where our trust is without borders; we worship God asking him to take us deeper than our feet could ever wander. But when we bleed, we retreat. We run the other way, as far out as we can get, thinking the thing God is asking of us will be so far in the distance it’ll never catch up to us. We wrap ourselves in the safety of fresh gauze and padded comforts.

Bleeding usually doesn’t come without pain. And through pain there will be tears. We will lament. We will ask ourselves, and God, “Why?” We will look to others and say, “This is hard and it hurts and I’m scared.”

I believe that with our bleeding, we’re actually doing some really great living.

I’m not saying everyone needs to get a tattoo, to purposefully bleed in order to prove something. My body art is a personal representation of my growing faith.

What I am saying is don’t run from the pain of living out your faith, be willing to deal with the blood.

You’re just bleeding. You’re not dying.

lizvoneLiz von Ehrenkrook – of So I Married a Youth Pastor – lives in Oregon with her husband, Mat, and their snobby cat, Pixel. In 12 days, Liz and Mat will be jobless and adventuring across the country on a summer road trip in search of what God wants next for them. Follow their journey here  and keep them in your prayers!